Toops Scoops: White as Rain

My last blog post on the possibility of a social media backlash got some attention -- heck, it even inspired Aartrijk blogger Charles Wasilewski to compare me to Betty White.

But whether we're branding our businesses using Facebook, Foursquare, LinkFaceTwit or speaking at the Kiwanis Club, an insidious fact lurks under all this hoo-ha -- something I wrote about in this blog back in 2008, and made a reappearance in yesterday's National Underwriter. And that is, as the headline said, "Insurance assets not Americans' top financial priority."

From the May 20 news story:

Americans recognize the importance of protecting their assets, but ensuring adequate insurance coverage for homes, cars and other possessions ranks low on Americans’ financial priority list, according to a recent Country Financial survey.

The survey, compiled by Rasmussen Reports, LLC and based on telephone calls to 3,000 Americans, found that just 2.3 percent of Americans listed having the right level of insurance protection on assets as their top financial priority...

With respect to respondents’ biggest financial priorities, having enough money to pay monthly bills far exceeded other concerns, with 53.1 percent stating it is their top priority (Ed: emphasis mine). Saving for a secure retirement (16.6 percent), having adequate health insurance (3.9 percent), saving for a child’s education (2.8 percent), and “some other priority” (5.2 percent) also topped having the right level of insurance protection on assets.

I know I write for a property-casualty publication whose readers primarily insure businesses, and that this article specifically deals with consumers. But the significance of the boldfaced statement above -- that more than half of the respondents were more concerned about simply paying their bills than anything else -- shouldn't be lost on anyone who sells any kind of insurance -- or anything else, for that matter.

This week the Dow had a hissy fit over the turmoil in the EU and an unemployment report that was worse than the so-called experts expected it to be. To put it colloquially, "Well, duh."  To put it in macroeconomic terms that even Goldman Sachs can understand, the economy sucks because people are out of work and can't afford to buy anything. Until that changes, it doesn't matter what happens on Wall Street, in housing and construction, in retail sales or anywhere else that purports to be an indicator of economic health.


And it's precisely that elephant in the room that will ultimately render the MySquareFaceTwit discussion as relevant as the old "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" controversy.

Do consumers have to buy insurance? Yes. Do consumers have to buy more than the bare bones coverage, upgrade or cover more stuff? No. And even if they wanted to, a huge percentage of them who are unemployed -- 9.9 percent of the U.S. working-age population, as of April -- probably can't afford to.

Luckily for us, though, most Americans can still afford their computer or smartphone service so they can continue to read the latest updates on FaceMyTwitTube -- at least for now. Considering the millions of manufacturing, construction and financial services jobs that the Wall Street Journal says are lost forever,  even Americans' thirst for constant connectedness might not be the inevitability it seems to be now.

In her long-awaited appearance on "Saturday Night Live," Betty White called Facebook being a "huge waste of time," adding that "when I was growing up we had a phonebook, but you wouldn’t waste an afternoon with it.” If our crack lawmakers and big businesses don't figure out a way to address unemployment, we might all be sitting around marketing with the phonebook -- if anyone's phones are still connected and if there's anything left to sit on.

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